What are Patents?

Do you think that patents are good ideas filed by smart people?

Do you think that if someone has a patent, then that means that he has come up with some idea that is worthy of protection, and that he may sue anyone that uses ‘his’ idea for many years?

Here, you see a patent for science-fiction non-sense… and the patent office approved the patent! It is clear that the patent office will approve patents that are obviously pre-dated by people doing actual work, and that the patent office will approve claims that are fantasy.

Given that patents can be acquired that are not at all new or unique, and are not even based in reality (!!!), does it make sense that someone should be able to get a patent and use that as proof that they can sue people who are actually working?


Here are some excerpts from an excellent article by the Seattle Weekly that starts to let you know how the United States Patent Office really works:

“In the mid-’90s, a man named Martin Jones managed to convince the patent office to award him 34 patents, all of which covered variations on the same simple concept: tracking the position and progress of everything from a subway train to a UPS delivery truck. Jones’ company failed, but his patents found a second life when he began licensing them through ArrivalStar, a mysterious Luxembourg-based company. ArrivalStar has since sued more than 100 companies that deliver packages or people, including giants like Home Depot and mom-and-pops like the 11-employee EarthSearch Communications, which got squeezed for $15,000.”


“To calculate just what kind of absurd damage this arrangement produces, Mark Lemley, director of the Law, Science & Technology program at Stanford, set out to see how many people not only claimed to have invented Wi-Fi, but persuaded an examiner to grant them a patent saying so. The final tally: 150.”


“So a shortcut was developed to avoid all that pesky research. It’s known as the “ruler methodology,” according to testimony from IPotential CEO Ron Epstein during a 2009 Federal Trade Commission hearing. Instead of suing each other, companies would meet in a conference room, put their stacks of patents on a table, and, rather than reading what was in each stack, they’d measure both with a ruler. The one with the smaller stack would end up paying the other for the right to not get sued.”


Here, see what the patent system actually is actually doing now.

And, Stephen Colbert has figured it out.

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